- Quinn Malter
The Federal Government is Ending COVID-Related Federal Assistance. What’s Next for Mainers?
The federal government has dealt working families across the country a one-two punch in the past few weeks. On August 27, the Supreme Court refused to extend the national eviction ban, putting millions of renters in jeopardy of losing their homes. Then, on September 6 (Labor Day), the federal government’s expanded unemployment benefits expired. The economic strain of COVID-19 is still far from over, so what does this mean for Mainers?
Many Mainers who risked eviction because they couldn’t pay their rent during the pandemic now face the devastating possibility of having to pay back any unpaid rent, long before the economy has recovered. But rest assured, no Mainer will find their lease ended suddenly. Maine passed a law this session that requires landlords to include with eviction notices a straightforward letter about what the process entails, as well as options for legal assistance and rent relief.
Meanwhile, Maine has received over $350 million from the federal government for pandemic rental relief. The Maine State Housing Authority has been responsible for distributing this relief and has done so more effectively than most states. So far, they have granted $57 million to over 10,300 Maine households. This means Mainers may be less likely to face mounting unpaid rent. The Maine State Housing Authority also offers an Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The program provides tenants with rental and utility relief payments. If you meet the program’s income limits (use this calculator), experienced unemployment or financial challenges during the pandemic, and are at risk of losing your housing, you may be eligible for rent and utility assistance.
Pine Tree Legal Associates is urging anyone receiving eviction notices to call their offices. They have created a comprehensive FAQ that can help you make sense of the eviction process and your options. PTLA hosts weekly eviction information sessions on Tuesday mornings, where you can learn more about the eviction process, your rights and responsibilities as a renter, your options for resolving your case, your possible defenses, and what happens when your case is over.
21,500 Mainers have lost their benefits with the end of the enhanced federal unemployment assistance program. Yet many families are still facing the health risks and economic effects of COVID-19 when returning to the workforce. For example, a parent may struggle to find safe, affordable childcare, or a child’s school may be closed after cases of COVID-19 are detected among students or staff. Research shows that the labor shortage we’re seeing now can’t be attributed to increased unemployment assistance. Many workers fear exposure to the fast-spreading Delta variant, and people have started to revert to pre-vaccine measures to prevent contracting the virus.
Maine still offers unemployed workers some assistance. State unemployment law allows parents who are able and available to work to receive unemployment assistance if they lose their childcare. And the federal child tax credit provides parents with an extra $250 - $300 monthly per child. Maine’s unemployment insurance does not, however, cover those who refuse to follow an employer’s vaccine mandate.
For more information on Maine’s COVID-19 unemployment insurance program, please visit the Maine Department of Labor’s FAQ page.
Though much of the federal assistance has expired, the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Thankfully, Maine still offers some support to the many Maine families who are still struggling. When our legislature returns to session, it’s imperative that they prioritize the economic security of our working families. Helping Mainers in this difficult time ensures that we all thrive when we reach the end of the ongoing threat of COVID-19.